ChinAI #117: Around the Horn (edition 3)

Plus, upcoming GovAI webinar on censorship's implications for AI

Greetings from a world where…

fall is in full bloom

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Around the Horn (3rd edition)

You know the drill by now:

  • short preview of 10 articles related to ChinAI — all published this past week and sourced from scans of WeChat accounts and groups

  • reply to the email and/or comment on the Substack post with the number of the article you’re most intrigued by, and we’ll translate a couple for next week!

  • some added weight to votes from subscribers that are supporting ChinAI financially

1) One-minute survey: What are the science and tech ethics issues that you are most concerned about?

Summary: Background info on a survey of Chinese academic circles re: their views on the most pressing science and tech ethics issues. Article summarizes the effort and links to the full text of the questionnaire.

Source: Duan Weiwen, a professor in the philosophy of science and technology (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), who is an active researcher of AI ethics.

2) Sex, Love, and Robots

Summary: A letter to the reader on the state of sex robots, written from the perspective of a robot from 2050 named Avary.

Source: 造就 (Zaojiu) — very interesting Shanghai-based platform that started out doing events similar to Ted Talks, but now is doing a range of creative media

3) Beijing’s enthusiasm for self-driving cars — even Wall Street has felt it

Summary: Open to anyone in Beijing, the most popular “tourist attraction” in Beijing is a trial of Baidu Apollo’s self-driving cars (only on designated test routes).

Source: 量子位 (Qbit AI) — AI-focused news site that pumps out many articles about AI on a daily basis. This one’s a lengthier report.

4) DJI gets back on the road

Summary: Wang Tao (AKA Frank Wang), the founder and CEO of DJI, is reflecting on new directions for DJI, the biggest seller of consumer drones. What challenges has DJI encountered, and where does its road lead?

Source: 雷锋网 (Leiphone) — a long-time source for ChinAI translations, which I think of as China’s MIT Tech Review. See ChinAI #60 for a deep dive into this source.

5) How do SMEs acquire digital intelligentization solutions? Data to help understand these transactions

Summary: Drawing from research on nearly 1000 small, medium, and micro businesses, Synced’s think tank has published a new report on digital intelligentization in China.

Source: 机器之心 (Synced) — very similar to Qbit and Leiphone, and also has an impressive longform portal (机器之能/jiqizhineng)

6) Li Mu, Liu Qun, Liu Yang, Zhu Jingbo, Zhang Min: Current bottlenecks in machine translation

Summary: Readout from the China Conference on Machine Translation, held Oct 10-12, where there was a forum on current bottlenecks of machine translation, featuring some big names, including Liu Qun — chief scientist of speech semantics at Huawei’s Noah’s Ark Laboratory.

Source: AI科技评论(aitechtalk) — focuses on in-depth reports on developments in the AI industry and academia.

7) Chinese chip projects welcome an “unfinished tide,” six 10-billion-level projects suspended

Summary: Summary of an investigative report by Xinhua's Outlook (Liaowang) Magazine on six major semiconductor projects, which have stalled. Reporters visit semiconductor projects and find empty offices overgrown with weeds.

Source: 瞭望 (Liaowang) Am curious to dig more into this Outlook Magazine report, which is written for elite government officials, and posts unusually candid reports from time to time.

8) When PaddleHub meets WeChat Mini-Programs

Summary: Apparently there’s been some excitement by developers over Baidu’s PaddleHub (an extension of its PaddlePaddle framework). This OSChina contributor tries to use PaddleHub’s poetry writing and art style transfer modules to build a WeChat mini-program.

Source: OSChina — portal that covers China’s open source community

9) Be wary of “Connecting Everything”: The Autistic Symptoms of Facial Recognition Technology

Summary: a somewhat long-winded attack on the intrusiveness of facial recognition by Yu Shengfeng, a law professor at Beihang University. Includes a tenuous comparison between the privacy-corrosive effects of the technology and the symptoms of autism.

Source: 南都公益基金会 (Narada Foundation) — ranks as one of the top five Chinese foundations in terms of charitable activities; this is a longform article published by its Narada Insights platform

10) Breakthrough! Six banks fined more than 40 million RMB for infringing personal information | DataLaws

Summary: On the same day that a draft law on personal information protection was announced, many banks were fined for infringement of the personal information of consumers.

Source: 数据法盟 (Datalaws) — a non-profit academic platform that focuses on data privacy and data security

ChinAI Links (Four to Forward)

Must-read: Thousands of Weibo accounts have been deleted as China’s government cracks down on free speech

Shen Lu’s latest story, for Rest of the World, about how a Chinese government crackdown on speech resulted in the deletion of thousands of accounts on Weibo, the country's last major platform for free expression. Zhahao, or “account bombing,” where pro-nationalists report dissenters and get them censored, have become incredibly frequent. As a result, some users have become more cautious with their conversations, while others have grown used to losing accounts and starting over, or learned where to buy burner accounts (which they quickly run through).

Should-read: What’s Going Wrong with Chinese Literature in Translation

By Dylan Levi King, for RADII, the list of best Chinese fiction rated by users on Douban looks very different from the Chinese literature that makes its way into English translation. "What makes it into English translation is often shaped by the idea that Chinese fiction’s main function is to explain China, and by two sides wrangling over what story Chinese literature should tell," Dylan writes. The bigger issue, as he notes, is that there’s so little Chinese literature that makes it into English at all.

Should-read: Chinese Perspectives on AI and Future Military Capabilities

Late to read this impressive Aug 2020 report by Ryan Fedasiuk. Instead of focusing on high-ranking military leaders’ statements and official PLA policy documents, he analyzes 58 journal articles written from 2016–2020 by officers, defense industry engineers, and academics involved in the day-to-day development and deployment of AI. One interesting key finding is: “Chinese experts tend to overestimate U.S. military AI capabilities, relative to open-source reporting.”

Should-watch: GovAI webinar series featuring Margaret Roberts on Censorship’s Implications for Artificial Intelligence

I’m really excited to be a discussant in this webinar next Wednesday, October 28th. GovAI is hosting Margaret Roberts, a professor at UC San Diego and leading expert on China’s censorship regime. She’ll be presenting work co-authored with Eddie Yang.

The topic: how censorship has affected the development of Wikipedia corpuses, which are in turn regularly used as training data that provide inputs to NLP algorithms. They show that word embeddings trained on the regularly censored Baidu Baike have very different associations between adjectives and a range of concepts about democracy, freedom, collective action, equality, and people and historical events in China than its uncensored counterpart Chinese language Wikipedia. They examine the origins of these discrepancies using surveys from mainland China and their implications by examining their use in downstream AI applications.

Thank you for reading and engaging.

These are Jeff Ding's (sometimes) weekly translations of Chinese-language musings on AI and related topics. Jeff is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford and a researcher at the Center for the Governance of AI at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute.

Check out the archive of all past issues here & please subscribe here to support ChinAI under a Guardian/Wikipedia-style tipping model (everyone gets the same content but those who can pay for a subscription will support access for all).

Any suggestions or feedback? Let me know at or on Twitter at @jjding99